Adnams Southwold Bitter
Adnams Southwold Bitter
G imme a Trappist beer, glittering and serene in its chalice of a glass; gimme a Brut IPA (yes, you read that right), as dry as an English summer drought, but chiming with its own sense of elegance; gimme a burnished glass of Bavarian Märzen, autumnal and brooding, I’ll pass on the pretzel.
Gimme, more than anything, though, especially when the pub doors are open and the wind from the east cuts in off the North Sea with the stiletto-sharpness of a Renaissance assassin, a pint, and always a pint, of Adnams Southwold Bitter.
Hold on, never mind the history, drink up for I want another gulp, another glass, another pint. This is sometimes what beers that you have loved and lost and found again do to you.
I first drank deeply of this most benevolent and beautiful expression of an English bitter in the late 1980s, on what a couple of mates and I laughingly called a beer study weekend in Southwold, home then and now to Adnams Best Bitter, as it was known at the time. (Funnily enough, even as I write I have just remembered beer-loving friends raving about it in college a few years prior, as I rolled my lager-dimpled eyes at them.)
On this trip, notes were not taken, just glasses filled and refilled as the three of us, up from the Smoke (as we didn’t really say), studied it with the devotion of pilgrims, spoke of it with relish and kept drinking it. Relatively new to cask, this was the beer that anchored me into the position of how good cask-conditioned beer could be.
It was a beer that went on to be by my side on numerous trips to Southwold and Suffolk (as well as in London), but I always wanted to drink it in Southwold, especially when the very air of this quaint seaside town was suffused with the smell of brewing day, rich, malt-drenched and tea-like.
One day in the spring of 2000, during a family holiday in Southwold, I sat on a bench outside the Red Lion, a glass in front of me, notebook on the table – I’d started making notes several years before – thinking about the sublimities of the beer, while my then two-year-old son snoozed in his pushchair.
Later, on that same holiday, I drank the beer in the Adnams tasting cellar with then head brewer Mike Powell-Evans, someone who helped me a lot with the intricacies of malt and hops as I was struggling to write about this thing called beer. However, one of the most memorable places where it spoke to me with the fluency of T.S. Eliot was in the Suffolk village of Laxfield, one of those pretty places with thatched cottages and an ancient church tower below which generations of villagers now lie silent. Five minutes to six it was, on a Friday afternoon, and the village seemed empty as we parked outside the King’s Head.
As the church clock struck 6:00, people materialized out of nowhere, all making a beeline for the ancient pub, some at a slightly unseemly jog. You could probably set your watch by them. Once inside this venerable thatched inn, also known as the Low House (a reference to its low-lying position as opposed to any slight on the clientele), you could understand the magnetic pull of opening time especially as Adnams Best Bitter was served straight from the cask.
This is a beer that I identify with a place, Suffolk. I see it in London, sometimes in Bristol or Exeter, and I drink it, but for me it’s a beer with a place, Suffolk and especially Southwold, the latter the place where I first really understood the subtle nature and boisterous boost of a bitter, as the East wind blew and waves raked themselves back off the shingle and the pint glass of amber bitter gleamed like a ship far out at sea.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.